Parents of children with eating disorders: developing theory-based health communication messages to promote caregiver well-being

J Health Commun. 2014;19(5):593-608. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2013.821559. Epub 2013 Dec 31.


Parents of children with eating disorders experience extreme emotional burden because of the intensity and duration of the recovery process. While parental involvement in a child's eating disorder treatment improves outcomes, parents often neglect their own well-being, which can impede their child's recovery. This study extends the research on caregivers and on health theory in practice by conducting formative research to develop a theory-based communication intervention encouraging parents to engage in adaptive coping and self-care behaviors. The Transactional Model of Stress and Coping and the Transtheoretical Model guided qualitative assessments of the determinants of parents' coping behaviors. Three focus groups with 19 parents of children with eating disorders and 19 semi-structured interviews with experts specializing in eating disorders were conducted. Findings indicate that parents and experts see parents' need for permission to take time for themselves as the main barrier to self-care. The main motivator for parents to engage in coping behaviors is awareness of a connection between self-care and their child's health outcomes. Participant evaluation of six potential messages for main themes and effectiveness revealed that theory-based elements, such as certain processes of change within the Transtheoretical Model, were important to changing health behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Child
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / therapy
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Communication / methods*
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Psychological Theory
  • Qualitative Research
  • Self Care / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological